How do they who are not human speak to us? In Twelve Theses on the Economy of the Dead (1994), John Berger stated that capitalism broke the interdependence between the living and the dead, and, with it, the collective consciousness of imagination and memory as manifestations of a perpetual exchange between what we call life, and death, which infinitely surrounds it. Confronted with evidence of the catastrophic consequences of the human treatment of the Earth as a usable and disposable commodity, the endeavor to repair this torn fabric has transitioned. It has evolved from a romantic notion held by poets, activists, peasants, and other entities labeled “unproductive” in the market’s perspective to an urgent paradigm shift, upheld by scientists and academics at the core of the institutions that underpin modern reason. For the artist Daniel Lie, ancestors inhabit the same territory to which we have confined everything that transcends the anthropocentric parameters of experience, what the anthropologist Eduardo Kohn referred to as the “more-than-human.” Over a decade ago, Lie initiated an exploration of the agency of organic matter using installation, drawing, dialogue, and a diverse array of other formats. Lie does not intend to “breathe life” into the spaces in which they intervene; instead, they engage with pre-existing conditions such as temperature or humidity, introducing agents that activate them to make life-death perceptible to human common senses.
The material and symbolic devastation brought about by the pandemic, both structural and personal, had a significant impact on Lie’s practice. Questions about loss, mourning, and what they define as non-negotiable conditions (hunger, aging, putrefaction) acquire a much more complex character than earlier understandings. If we think about the work that the artist was conducting in The Negative Years (2019), as part of Death Centre for the Living and Human Supremacy: The Failed Project (2019), concerns were present regarding incorporating emotional dimensions into understandings of non-human actors participating in co-creation (fungi, gasses, organic pigments, fibers), as well as challenging the binary logic that separates and opposes nature and culture. In Non-negotiable Condition (2021), well into the pandemic, the question of communication and language becomes deeper. Circling back to the question that opens this text, the “ontological turn” in the social sciences found a way to legitimize ancestral knowledge related to interdependence by systematizing it and renaming it as “bio-semantics.” Similarly, in Lie’s work, there is something more than a quest for new words and new images at the gates of future. Perhaps it is precisely the opposite: a moving backwards; seeking pathways and processes that rekindle moments of uncertainty and fragility in which we have brushed against something we could call the infinite. Something that doesn’t fit neatly into commercial showcases, because it’s closely linked to the uncomfortable, unavoidable condition of vulnerability that reveals that we (species and individuals) will never, ever be self-sufficient.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: Daniel Lie Unnamed Entities, New Museum, 2022. Site and time-specific, installation. Unnamed Entities, A collaboration exhibition between other-than- humans and Daniel Lie. A site and time specific work. Curated by Bernardo Mosqueira; photo by Dario Lasagni.
fig. 1: Daniel Lie, Them Sculpture Garden, Geneva Biennale, 2022. A site-responsive installation in collaboration with sequoia trees. Turmeric, dyed cotton fabric, natural rope, terracotta ceramic vases. photos by Daniel Lie.
fig. 2: Daniel Lie, The Negative Years: Quing Jupiter Artland - Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh Scotland 2019. Site-responsive and time-specific, installation. photo by Ruth Clark.